Two-Part Song for Lent
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.
— Mark, 1:13
When at night I go to sleep, Fourteen angels watch do keep.
— Humperdinck’s opera, Hansel and Gretel, II.2
libretto by his sister, Adelheid Wette
Perhaps they were never at odds, the beasts
and angels in the proverbial wilderness.
Certainly my child finds them twinned,
squirrel, lion and angel all apart from what
the world offers to his touch, and yet
he knows the lion’s heart is sometimes
good. He sighs at cartoon tiger moms
who bathe their young with tongues,
believes in hippo dads who waddle
and fling their feces as they go.
He knows what hunger is.
I’m the one who’s troubled by the myth
of perspicuity in stories, the fact
that this concert hall of children under ten
is witnessing two parental figures
scold and send their hungry children
into darkness, admonishing them to stay
until they’ve filled their baskets. Or that
the dangers in Mark’s version of the forty days
are far too inexact: Satan’s out there, yes,
but the beasts are only wild, the angels
merely tending. I’m supposed to guide
the child in moral matters, and yet I’m partial
to the singing witch in ruffled bloomers,
cannot confiscate the elegant Babar
or cavalier cat in boots who torments
peasants into treason. Nor do I yearn
for the day when the beloved cub
who’s refused for twenty pages to take
his bath, becomes a wild beast again.
I glory in the feral prayer, spilled milk,
the story of parents at the end of all reserves.
The little elephant’s dapper spats and weakness
for Haussmann style elevators are every bit as gospel
as the fourteen angels Adelheid invents
to keep her children safe
from what they cannot help but love.
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